Susan Liu talks to workingwise.co.uk about her transition from working in a corporate to setting up her own Chinese medicine clinic.
Susan Liu got in touch with workingwise.co.uk after reading a review of Dr Lucy Ryan’s book on midlife women quitting the workforce. She wanted to make the point that leaving the corporate track can be a very positive choice and can allow people to explore new ways of working and to tap into a broader range of talents.
This is something she herself has done after quitting her job in 2019 following a long career in sales and marketing – and she has no regrets.
Susan’s working life began early – at 13. Growing up in Taiwan, she was regularly doing summer jobs. In her early years after graduation she explored very different fields of work.
Her first job after studying psychology in the US was as a research assistant working on the impact of post-partum depression on children’s cognitive development. On her return to Taiwan she found the approach to psychology very different to what she had studied in the US. So when an opening came up to do a master’s in Criminology at a new school that had opened she applied. She says she had long been fascinated by the psychology of serial killers. In the second year of her master’s she took on a job as a translator in a patents office and taught English.
Susan then took a job in marketing at a science park, her psychology degree helping her to understand customer behaviour. Soon she found herself promoted to sales and marketing manager for a company which made set top boxes.
From there she started working in sales for a major manufacturer of LCD tvs, focusing on the Japanese and European markets. After a year she was transferred to Europe and moved to Amsterdam with her American husband. After around five years Susan was promoted to managing director for EMEA until she was headhunted by a US distribution company. She stayed until 2018 when she moved to another US company before leaving in 2019.
Susan says she had been dissatisfied with corporate life for some time before she left and felt she needed a new challenge. As she got older her values had changed. She had done an MBA in 2010 which made her question her job in pushing manufactured goods more deeply. Her job seemed to clash with her values at home. “I am not a big consumer,” she says. “My home is very low tech. I didn’t have a tv for years while I was in the tv business. I felt like I wasn’t doing what I was preaching.” For some years she thought about changing track, but the pay was so good that she felt it wasn’t possible to walk away and her husband encouraged her to stay.
Then, in early 2019, Susan’s mum died which had a big impact on how she thought about life. When her father had died 13 years ago she had taken another huge step – deciding to start a family. That eventually led to Susan and her husband adopting their son, something she says is the best thing they ever did. When her mother died she felt she didn’t want to waste time any more when it came to work. Within a month she had quit her corporate job. “I didn’t wait for a formal settlement,” she says. “I just walked.” Just days before she left her divorce came through. Susan had some savings to look after her son and herself. She says she felt suddenly “very light”.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision. I had no idea what I was going to do,” she states. She tried various things – she started a company publishing Asian literature and became an art agent promoting Asian art. Then Covid hit just as she was about to open an exhibition. “It was a disaster,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything for a year.” In the meantime, she took some courses, including some traditional Chinese medicine courses which were equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. She loved it and it reminded her of how, as a young child, she had dreamt of helping people when they got hurt.
After obtaining her qualification in Chinese medicine, Susan set up a clinic in central Amsterdam and started practising.
She really enjoys her new life and says it fits much better with her values. She states: “We often join the capitalist machine without thinking, but if we want to change society in a meaningful way and make it more sustainable that is not the way to go.” When it comes to midlife women, she adds: “There are so many ways we can do more meaningful work. I see women doing it all around the world, working in small start-ups. We can take the victim view that society is pushing us out of the workplace and excluding us, which may be true, but we can also explore if there are better ways to do things.”
She is keen not to judge those who choose to stay in corporates, stating: “Some people stay on the wagon and some people jump off it. It’s a matter of individual choice, but it needs to be a mindful choice. We need to be aware of our options.” She says that when she was working in the corporate world she was so busy she didn’t have much time for her son, but during Covid they got very close and would sit side by side doing their work together. “It was priceless,” she says. “It made me realise we can do things differently and we can shape our lives.”
Susan is earning a lot less money now. She has a new partner and for the first time her partner makes more money than she does. “At first I had to swallow my pride,” she says. Financial independence has always been very important to her. But she feels the simpler life that she now has is what she wants. She is also working on some ideas for a health start-up for older people. “I feel more confident. I am enjoying ageing,” she says. “When I talk to former colleagues they are jealous, but you shouldn’t have to wait until you retire to do what you want. Countries should do much more to encourage start-ups and nurture people to explore their talents.”